The following is the slightly longer English version of a piece that appeared originally in Afrikaans in Rapport, 6 June 2010. Note that the sub-editors of the Afrikaans version changed my original ‘vergelyking’ to ‘teenstelling’ in my parenthetical reference to the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners)
Next to ‘hotnot’, ‘gam’* and ‘kaffer’, the epithet that hurt me most as a child was ‘kerrienaat’ (‘curry-arse’). It conflated religion and stereotyped dietary habits (Muslims eat curry every day) into a label that instantly undermined one’s authority and sense of self when playground rivalries turned nasty. It could win any argument by dismissing the rival as a ‘kerrienaat’.
As with ‘hotnot’ or ‘kaffer’, or any such words of vilification, the word’s power over its target comes from unequal social relationships and the history of real and cultural abuse that underlies such unequal relationships (Compare the declamations by the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners over the stereotypes of the ‘Afrikaner’ during the Eerste Taalbeweging).** ‘Kerrienaat’ was a powerful label because of the unequal relationships between a largely Christian world (no matter how secularised) and a minority Muslim community fragmented and further embattled following especially the Group Areas Act, which forced a close-knit community apart and into dispersed neighbourhoods. The dominant way of looking at the world was (is) essentially Christian or secularised Christianity, and this dominance allowed that world to define and misrepresent the non-Christian with impunity.